Educators who illustrate what we honor on July 4

This column originally appeared on on June 22, 2017


Educators who illustrate what we honor on July 4


As we celebrate the nation’s birthday, educators like Nell Collier, Sam Fredrickson and Debra Lach help illustrate some of our country’s core values.

Each fall, the U.S. Department of Education selects schools in each state for either, as USDE explains, “their overall academic excellence or their progress in closing achievement gaps among student subgroups.” District, charter, private and parochial schools have been selected. A complete list of Minnesota’s Blue Ribbon Schools is available at

Collier, Fredrickson and Lach, leaders at schools recognized last September as Blue Ribbon Schools, have agreed to describe strategies that produced student progress at a statewide conference in St. Paul on July 19, where I will serve as moderator. Learning, sharing and students matter more to these educators than whether their schools are district or charter. For more information about the conference where these educators share experiences and expertise, visit

Collier, formerly an award-winning Minneapolis district elementary school principal, is also a former executive director of Friendship Academy of the Arts, a charter public school in Minneapolis. She’s now the school’s arts enrichment coordinator.

Fredrickson is principal at Birchview Elementary School in Plymouth, which is part of Wayzata Public Schools.

Lach is executive director of the DaVinci Academy of Arts and Sciences, a charter public school in Blaine.

Two other district schools that USDE named as 2016 Blue Ribbon Schools did not respond to invitations to discuss their schools at the conference.

Let’s focus on those who agreed to participate. A willingness to work together, despite differences, is one of this nation’s central values. So are, as the Declaration of Independence describes them, the “unalienable rights” of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” These outstanding schools help illustrate Minnesota’s respect for individuals and belief in freedom for individuals and families to choose schools within some limits. Minnesota’s public school choice programs are a classic example of that American ideal.

Unquestionably, Americans are divided about many things. But whether it’s fighting against foreign foes, challenging a difficult disease, helping young people achieve their potential or sacrificing for others, our willingness to work together has been critical for progress.

Over the coming year, I hope that foundations, colleges, universities, state agencies, and educator, civic and other groups will promote learning from outstanding schools and educators. Meanwhile, the July 19 conference offers an opportunity to see this collaborative spirit, one of the ideals we honor on July 4, displayed.

Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, administrator and PTA president, is director of the Center for School Change. Reactions are welcome at